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Creation Day - Creation Time

 

..Creation Day - Creation Time

Collection of Background Articles


 

A Personal Version:

THE NEW STORY OF CREATION

By  Rev. Fr. John Leydon

[ This is the five-page edition of the "New Story of Creation," the "personal version" of the classic Creation story which reconciles the Bible's Book of Genesis with what the best of human science has found out about the origin of the universe and of life.]


The origin of the Universe as told to us by science starts with the primordial flaring forth of energy -- known as the Big Bang -- around 15 thousand million (15 billion) years ago. Everything in existence at this moment was contained in a potential state in that great outpouring. The story continues with cooling of the fireball and the first atoms -- simple ones like hydrogen and helium but with these elements come the force of gravity which forms billions of galaxies containing billions of stars. Five thousand million years ago (five billion) a star in our galaxy 'went supernova' bursting with the brightness of a million stars. In the heart of events like this were created all the elements that make up our table of elements -- oxygen, calcium, carbon and all the rest. This cloud of elements coalesced into thousands of second-generation stars -- one of which was/is our star -- The Sun.  When our Sun ignited it threw the heavy elements into space which formed disks and eventually planets including the third planet -- our home -- Earth.

Earth proved to be a very special planet. At first the heavy elements sank to the bottom and the lighter ones formed a red hot surface -- heated further by constant bombardment of meteorites. But eventually it cooled and stabilized; molten at the center, with a thin crust made up of tectonic plates allowing matter and gases emerges in this space-time developmental universe that science presents. The immanence and transcendence fuse into a miraculous grace-filled process. There is much work to be done by theologians to spell out the presence of Christ and the identification of Christ with this process, as Paul says "in Him all things were created... through Him and for Him" (Col.1:16). From our religious point of view we are returning to a world that is absolutely full of miracle and mystery. But let us return to the story.

Earth cooled and oceans formed. The first oceans were shallow and rich in carbon. They were full of chemical activity with basic elements forming all kinds of molecules and being bombarded by electric storms of great intensity. Out of this mix comes LIFE – the first cell with a membrane and dna coding, able to reproduce itself through cloning and to recycle many elements. It was called the Prokaryote. 

The story of life can be told in a series of Crises and Breakthroughs. The first crisis occurs after 100 million years when the carbon soup runs out! It looked like the story of life would finish here. But a breakthrough occurred – the simple cells learned to capture the energy coming from the Sun – a process known as photosynthesis.

With this breakthrough comes a new surge of free energy and life thrives once more. The prokaryote begins to work on the chemical composition of the planet – releasing oxygen into the air. Oxygen is very volatile. At first it attacked the rocks and oxidized them like a diligent painter with one color - red. Then it began to build up in the atmosphere. It did this for almost one and a half billion years until the free oxygen in our atmosphere reached 21%. Then it stopped! But now the ozone layer was complete and life had a protective layer. Then – 2 billion years ago - the next crisis happens: the oxygen begins to attack the prokaryote! Again it looked like that life was about to end but another breakthrough occurred.

 The breakthrough was the Oxygen Revolution or aerobic respiration: Prokaryotes had developed in different forms over billions of years. One type had learned to absorb oxygen and it fused with another type to form a more sophisticated type of cell called a Eukaryote. Now life could breathe and the oxygen was no longer a threat but a source of energy!

 The root of the word Eukaryote is the same as that in the word Eucharist – or communion. It is interesting to reflect on this at this time of our current crisis. The Holy Father, reflecting on our current crisis calls for “A New Solidarity”. To what forms of new solidarity is creation calling us in our current planetary crisis?

 One billion years ago the next crisis happens: The carbon, sun and air are no longer sufficient to support life as it has proliferated. So creation came up with another unprecedented breakthrough: Life begins to feed off itself – a process called heterothrophy. The oceans are once again transformed by a new surge of life. Diversity is multiplied with the coming of sexual reproduction. The pace of creation is becoming so intense that another phenomenon comes into being to deal with the explosion – death.                 

 The oceans are teeming with biological activity and 600 million years ago the next breakthrough occurs: Multi-cellular life. Life now begins to come together in communities of up to 50,000 cells: jellyfish, sponges, snails, worms, and with the worm, the first brain cell.

 Life goes through four stages when particular forms of life have hegemony: Invertebrates, Vertebrates, Reptiles (with he famous dinosaurs), and Mammals. Many of the changes of regime happen because of major catastrophes like meteorites hitting the planet. Sometimes up to 90% of the species is wiped out but with millions of years of recovery a new regime is established.

 There are great moments in the story of life: The time that Life leaves the sea and goes on to land. Plants take root, learn to stand up, followed by insects. Soil is created; forests grow and covered over waiting for 400 million years to be uncovered by industrial civilization. With the vertebrates the senses develop. Imagine the day that the first eye opened! Up to this point the wonders of creation had not been seen! But we now know that it actually happened around 400 million years ago.

 The first invertebrates to invade the land were amphibians. An amphibian with five spikes on its gills was among them. Hence our five fingers!

 Life has existed in the seas for almost 90% of its history. We left the sea, first as amphibians, but then developed skin to carry the sea within us as we moved around. To quote one author:

 To ease the transition to these totally different surroundings, (from sea to dry land) animals invented a most ingenious trick. They took their former environment with them for their young. To this day the animal womb simulates the wetness, buoyancy, and salinity of the ancient marine environment. Moreover, the salt concentrations in the mammal blood and other bodily fluids are remarkably similar to those in the oceans. We came out of the ocean more than 400 million years ago, but we never completely left the seawater behind. We still find it in our blood, sweat and tears.


 THE REIGN OF THE MAMMALS AND THE EMERGENCE OF THE HUMAN

 With the coming to power of the Mammals 65 million years ago, the stage is set for the next breakthrough in creation: the emergence of the Human. Human-like activity has been around for just over one minute (four million years). Two seconds before midnight our species appears (over 100,000 years ago). Two fiftieth of a second -- culture appears (10,000 years ago). Five thousand years ago the human moves into the classical civilization mode.  One thousand of a second ago (400 years ago) the technological civilization was unleashed on the planet.

 What was all of this like from the point of view of the ocean? The ocean must have felt the increase in carbon with the control of fire by humans -- about one million years ago, five seconds, five seconds on our clock. Then it must have noted the decrease in oxygen that happened with the clearing of forests that came with farming ten thousand years ago. With the coming of the Classical civilizations did it also feel the further loss of forests for warships and the massive burning that took place in the battles between the great civilizations? Did it notice the coming of new technology in fishing, sailing and  commerce?

 It must surely have noticed the impact that technological civilization brought with it, 400 years ago (a mere thousand of a second on our 24hr clock!): the billions of tons of carbon that have to be absorbed each year because of energy generation. The toxic chemicals -- run-off from agriculture and human waste which have diminished the capacity for life on the continental shelves; the destruction of species-rich coral reefs, mangrove swamps and wetlands to make way for real estate developers, the loss of 80 million tons of fish yearly for human consumption, the decline of the magnificent whales. The noxious gasses that poison the atmosphere, the hundred of thousands of tons of chemical waste poured into her, the radio-active materials dumped into her womb, mutilating the genetic coding that originates there, the nuclear explosions that boil her and all life in their vicinity, the transfer of species through transportation of ballast water which dramatically alters coastal ecosystems. 

 Fr.Thomas Berry, a Passionist priest, eloquently describes our current impact on the planet while placing it in a historical context:

 When the agricultural civilizations began some ten thousand years ago, the human disturbance of the natural world was begun in a serious way...but the  damage was sustainable.

 In our times, however, human cunning has mastered the deep mysteries of the earth at a level far beyond the capacities of earlier peoples. We can break the  mountains apart; we can drain the rivers and flood the valleys. We can turn the most luxuriant forests into throw-away paper products. We can tear apart the  great grass cover of the land and pour toxic chemicals into the soil and pesticides into the fields until the soil is dead and blows away in the  wind. We can pollute the air with acids, the rivers with sewage, the seas with oil - all in a kind of intoxification with our power for devastation at an  order of magnitude beyond all reckoning. We can invent computers capable of processing ten million calculations per second. And why? To increase the  volume and the speed with which we move natural  resources through the consumer economy to the junk  pile or the waste heap. Our managerial skills are  measured by the competence manifested in accelerating  this process. If in these activities the topography  of the planet is damaged, if the environment is made  inhospitable for a multitude of living species, then  so be it. We are, supposedly creating a technological wonderworld.


 0RIGIN AND VISION OF THE TECHNOLOGICAL CIVILIZATION

 Out of Europe of the middle ages comes the technological civilization. This culture was based on the discovery and harnessing the forces of Nature: gravity, electro-magnetic and nuclear. The technological culture named these forces, developed the mathematics to measure them and the technology to use them. We are all familiar with the story of Isaac Newton watching the apple falling from the tree and naming the law of gravity. What's really involved here is that he developed a new form of mathematics -- differential calculus -- to measure moving objects and the knowledge to control gravity.  From this came the machine to replace movements done by muscle power -- either human or animal. Here is born a new civilization -- the techno-industrial. Over the next few hundred years the process of measuring forces was extended to the area of chemistry, electronics, intelligence and life itself with the discovery of DNA. The culture spread from Europe through colonialism but eventually became the dominant world culture, now eagerly adopted by practically all peoples and dominating all other cultures throughout the world.

 The development of the culture is facilitated and accompanied by a corresponding world-view or vision. This world-view looks at the Universe as a big machine. It replaced a vision of the world as primarily religious, where Nature was sacred. In the technological vision the world is totally rational. The world can be known through empirical scientific investigation and only things known in this way are considered real. Previous cultures and their wisdom are dismissed as superstitious myth. Ironically the culture is driven and empowered by its own myth -- the Myth Of Progress. The myth is unrecognized as a myth and therefore all the more powerful. Yet it evokes tremendous energy and commitment from all who come under its spell. Few of us have been spared from the enchantment of this myth. It drives us to go to the ends of the earth in pursuit of commerce or even evangelization. It promises us the creation of a technological wonderland. Unfortunately the reality that is coming into being is not a wonderland but a wasteland. 

 What is needed is a vision of a different civilization and this can only come about if we have a new vision of reality. Let me again quote the Philippine bishops:

 We will not be successful in our efforts to develop a new attitude towards the natural world unless we are sustained and nourished by a new vision. This vision must blossom forth from our understanding of the world as God intends it to be. We can know the shape of this world by looking at how God originally fashioned our world and laid it out before us.

 This is what I would like to do in this presentation: to give you some sense of this 'NEW VISION' which the bishops propose as the source of a new attitude to the natural world. I hope to do this by looking at how 'God originally fashioned our world' -- that is by taking into account the findings of science -- but science with a difference -- from a religious point of view.


 A NEW VISION OF CREATION: CHURCH-SCIENCE RIFT 

-- A NEW RECONCILIATION

A few years ago the Holy Father offered an apology to Galileo for the way the Church, through the Inquisition, treated him. This is an event of tremendous significance. It marks the end of a long and bitter separation between religion and science which has lasted 400 years. 

As the technological civilization emerged a great divorce took place between religion and science. For some time the Church tried to control the outpouring of knowledge that the scientific revolution was producing. After awhile it realized that it was a losing proposition. Then there was a kind of a 'stand off'. Both religion and science retreated into their own worlds -- to the detriment of both: science and technology continued to develop with hardly any moral restraint and without any input from the wisdom of religious tradition of the civilization. Religion also suffered grievously: we have had hardly any new theological reflection on creation for the past 400 hundred years, hardly any reflection on the role of the Spirit until quite recently.

All this changes with the new reconciliation. My wish is that we are about to enter into a new era of creative dialogue between science and religion which offers the possibility of a return to the last great age of cosmology -- the time of Thomas Aquinas who put together his great Summa based on a creative marriage of the philosophy and science of the pagan Aristotle and the Christian Vision.

This is a great task that will occupy professional theologians for years to come. But I would like, more like an artist -- a story-teller -- to sketch what is coming about. I would like to tell the story of the sea and oceans. I invite to listen to this story as a religious story even though the content is made up of empirical scientific data. The form is religious -- it is told with a view to evoke awe and wonder, a sense of the sacred and provide an insight into what is 'our place in the great scheme of things'

There's a poem which I think captures this. I would like to share it with you. It's by Mary Oliver -- coming out of, and reacting to the ethos of New England where modern civilization, with its stress on the will and power, has taken deep roots. It's entitled "You Do Not Have to be Good".

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

 

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours,

and I will tell you mine.

 

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

 

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese,

harsh and exciting

    - over a   opnd over

announcing your place in

the family of things 


Other background articles are listed, with links in the Creation Celebration 

     opening page. click here.

Other important materials can be downloaded from www.ecen.org .

For a proposed Seven-Step Plan to join the Creation Celebration, click here.  

To access an environment-oriented website, click this link: http://earth.web.ph .



 


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